Napoleon’s Plunder and the Theft of Veronese’s 'Feast' by Cynthia Saltzman - review by Jonathan Keates

Jonathan Keates

The Great Monastery Heist

Napoleon’s Plunder and the Theft of Veronese’s 'Feast'

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Either you get Veronese or you don’t. Of all the great masters of Venice’s glorious late Renaissance, Paolo Caliari, the man from Verona, is the most divisive. For some he was merely a swanky decorator who might have started a magazine called ‘World of Exteriors’, interested only in the different kinds of brocade with which he adorned his blonde, bejewelled Madonnas and princesses, and the Palladian facades he portrayed them against, amid dogs, dwarfs and a parrot or a monkey. For many others he was one of the most humane, loving and generous painterly spirits who ever existed, liberal with his palette, a master of form and composition with an unrivalled eye for faces in a crowd, his gaze defined by tenderness and compassion. He is the artist who inspired Delacroix, Degas, Cézanne and Van Gogh. Ruskin solemnly declared, ‘Paul Veronese was ordained by Almighty God to be an archangel.’

In 1562, aged thirty-four, he began work on a painting to cover the end wall of a new refectory designed by Andrea Palladio for the Benedictine abbey of San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice. Its subject was the wedding at Cana, where Christ’s first miracle was performed, the transformation of water

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